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McKibben writes: "The new data from Greenland matters for every corner of the planet. Water pouring into the North Atlantic will not only raise sea levels, but is also likely to modify weather patterns. 'If the world allows a substantial fraction of the Greenland ice sheet to disintegrate, all hell breaks loose for eastern North America and Europe,' says NASA's James Hansen, the world's foremost climatologist."

Pools of water form as ice melts atop Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland. (photo: Brennan Linsley/AP)
Pools of water form as ice melts atop Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland. (photo: Brennan Linsley/AP)



The Arctic Ice Crisis

By Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone

18 August 12

 

here's no place on Earth that's changing faster - and no place where that change matters more - than Greenland. Late last month, NASA reported that ice all across the vast glacial interior of the world's largest island was melting - a "freak event" that hadn't occurred for at least 150 years. The alarming discovery briefly focused the media's attention on a place that rarely makes headlines. RAPID ICE MELT BAFFLES SCIENTISTS, The Wall Street Journal declared.

In fact, scientists weren't baffled at all - a paper published just weeks before had predicted that an abrupt, islandwide melt was imminent. The rapid loss of ice is only the latest in a chain of events that have upended conventional understanding of how the Earth's "cryosphere" - its frozen places - behave. Taken together, the events offer new insight into how fast the world's seas are likely to rise as a result of global warming - and hence, the fate of major cities like New York and Miami and Mumbai.

Jason Box, a scientist at the Byrd Polar Research Center, has probably spent more time in Greenland than any American of his generation. He began his yearly treks to the island in the 1990s as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado, helping his professor install a series of automated weather stations; last month he was sleeping on a sailboat near the mouth of a huge glacier and traveling onto the ice by helicopter to install yet more sensors. The shift he and his team have measured over the course of the past two decades is startling. "When I took my first course in glaciology," Box says, "conventional thought had the reaction time of the ice sheets to heating on the order of 10,000 years." The ice sheet, scientists believed, was a mostly inert ice cube frozen fast at its bed; if the glaciers melted because of global warming, the process would be, well, glacial.

But in a series of scientific epiphanies beginning in 2002, researchers using GPS have found that melting on the ice's surface can cause large sections of the ice sheet to break free of its moorings in hours, not millennia. In 2006, scientists discovered that ice was suddenly pouring into the ocean at twice the rate previously measured, spurred by a pulse of warm ocean temperatures that undercut the glaciers from below. In two separate instances, Box correctly predicted which sections of a glacier would soon break off - sections, in each case, that were many times larger than the island of Manhattan.

But Box's most crucial contribution to ice science - and the scariest part of his new findings - involves his measurement of Greenland's reflectivity, or "albedo." We know that snow is white: When sunlight hits a glacier, most of it bounces back into space, instead of being absorbed by dark-blue oceans or green forests. But not all ice shines with the same brightness. As snow crystals warm - even before they melt - they lose their jagged edges and become rounder, reflecting less light. "You can see it with your naked eye," says Box. "Think of the way wet sand is darker than dry sand."

Fresh snow bounces back 84 percent of the light that hits it; warm, rounded crystals can reflect as little as 70 percent. Slushy snow saturated by water - which gives it a gray cast, or even a bluish tint - reflects as little as 60 percent. Add dust or soot, and the albedo drops below 40 percent. Box's satellite data has shown a steady darkening in Greenland's albedo, from a July average of 74 percent when the century began to about 68 percent last year.

And then came this summer: Without warning, the line on the albedo chart dropped deep into uncharted territory. At certain altitudes, the ice sheet in Greenland was suddenly four percent less reflective - in a single season. "I confess my heart skipped a beat when I saw how steep the drop was," says Box. "I thought it meant the satellite sensor might have degraded." Instead, weeks of "ground-truthing" - going out on the ice to gather data from imbedded sensors and inspect conditions - verified that it was the ice sheet itself that was darkening. The heat accumulating in the ice sheet year after warm, sunny year was suddenly making it far easier to melt the surface. What's more, in a vicious feedback loop, soot from the wildfires raging in Colorado and Siberia - themselves spurred by climate change - may be helping to darken the surface of the ice. (Box hasn't been able to raise the funds to send a graduate student to do the sampling that would provide a definitive answer.)

Box had conservatively predicted that it might take up to a decade before the surface of Greenland's ice sheet melted all at once. That it actually happened in just a few weeks only underscores how consistently cautious ice scientists have been in forecasting the threat posed by global warming. Now, however, that caution is being replaced by well-founded alarm. "Greenland is a sleeping giant that's waking," says Box. "In this new climate, the ice sheet is going to keep shrinking - the only question is how fast."

The new data from Greenland matters for every corner of the planet. Water pouring into the North Atlantic will not only raise sea levels, but is also likely to modify weather patterns. "If the world allows a substantial fraction of the Greenland ice sheet to disintegrate, all hell breaks loose for eastern North America and Europe," says NASA's James Hansen, the world's foremost climatologist.

But the future, pressing as it is, sometimes gives way to sheer awe at the scale of what we've already done. Simply by changing the albedo of the Greenland ice sheet, Box calculates, the island now absorbs more extra energy each summer than the U.S. consumes in a year. The shape and color of the ice sheet's crystals, in other words, are trapping more of the sun's rays than all the cars and factories and furnaces produce in the world's biggest economy. One of Box's collaborators, photographer James Balog, puts it like this: "Working in Greenland these past years has left me with a profound feeling of being in the middle of a decisive historic moment - the kind of moment, at least in geologic terms, that marks the grand tidal changes of history." Amid this summer's drama of drought, fire and record heat, the planet's destiny may have been revealed, in a single season, by the quiet metamorphosis of a silent, empty sheet of ice.

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+33 # hillwright 2012-08-18 10:13
What's baffling? This has been predicted and awaited by the mining and oil industries for decades. Only political propaganda has said otherwise.
 
 
-22 # robcarter.vn 2012-08-18 21:55
Exactly Hillwright. just "hadn't occurred for at least 150 years" we survived that ok I am here as you are there. Blaming global warming what rot.

Did readers happen to note that ships 100k from NewZealand diverted to dodge 10,000 square miles or whatever measurement of Pumice rock shelf floating on the Pacific ocean surface.

From an undersea volcano sea mount = billions of gallons/liteers of hot water heading up via gulf stream Japan baring straights to greenland icemelt.

So global warming is political/econo mic hot air not Pacific volcano hot water the ice melter is now disposing earth overheating center to greanland iceb to atmosphere to bother Mars rover not us.
Chjeers USA.NWO
 
 
+6 # Glen 2012-08-18 11:30
Hillwright has noticed. Russia and others have had their little Mars Rovers searching out the future of the ice and sea floor, setting up their territory for mining and oil extraction. They are the wolves on the edge of the firelight, waiting to pounce when the life goes out of that fire and that ice.
 
 
+8 # DaveM 2012-08-18 11:32
The entire surface of the earth is covered with small amounts of radioactive material, the result of atomic tests, nuclear accidents, emissions from coal-fired power plants (coal contains trace amounts of uranium and various isotopes), etc. This is as true of Greenland as anywhere else. If post-1945 ice in Greenland melts and flows into the ocean, all of the radiation collected in it's surface area will be released into the surrounding sea, thus concentrating it. Whether that will have any significant effect remains to be seen. But I doubt it will be beneficial.

The same may be said for heavy metals and other pollutants which have been released into the atmosphere for centuries and continue to be. At the moment, they are for the most part locked up in the ice of Greenland. But if that ice melts (as it is)....countles s tons of toxins will flow into the sea.
 
 
-27 # Malcolm 2012-08-18 11:52
Interesting article. I am concerned about two things. First, those of us who are skeptical about AGW are often dissed for not being "climatologists '' or "not scientists".
Yet Bill McKibben is treated as some kind of demigod insofar as his opinions on this subject.

Why is that, I wonder? As far as I can tell from googling his name, he has a degree in Journalism, with no mention of climatology or any other field of science.

I do enjoy most of McKibben's books, especially on food issues. But I don't consider him an expert on food, and especially don't believe he's got the background to be an expert on climatology.

Second concern, which is rather amusing. Oops; running out of room. CONTINUED
 
 
-19 # Malcolm 2012-08-18 11:58
Second comment (continued)

Ok, so we're supposed to be worried about melting ice on Greenland. Maybe so, fine. But how ironic that McKibben mentions that this melting is a "freak event" that "had not happened for at least 150 years".

I gather from that statement that this has occurred in the past, perhaps as recently as 150 years ago.

It follows that either this current "freak event" is a natural happening, or else the earlier "freak event" was somehow caused by humans, even though it happened long ago, and was presumably not a result of CO2 emissions?

Any clarification would be most welcome.
 
 
+13 # mdhome 2012-08-18 18:41
It would appear you have some trouble with reading comprehension. First. McKibben is only reporting like any reporter, the conclusion was not his. I guess you would not believe a reporter who said a man was stabbed to death last night unless he was the one stabbed to death. Second. This condition has not happened for at LEAST 150 years, I presume because we did not have satellites and helicopters and measuring devices to get an accurate reading on the condition in the dark ages. I trust this clarifies things for you.
 
 
+17 # chrisconnolly 2012-08-18 12:04
And the climate change deniers continue to squeal about the radical nature of climate science's dire predictions. What are they going to deny now? What are they going to claim as solution? That we need more pipelines, more cars, fewer regulations in support of freedoms? We are doomed and our kids and grandkids are the ones who will suffer the most.
 
 
+5 # fcvnyc 2012-08-18 12:22
This latest evidence of the Greenland ice crisis shows the extreme danger of global heating of the climate. Photographer Balog’s feeling of “being in the middle of a decisive historic moment… that marks the grand tidal changes of history” should become part of a global consciousness and of a willingness to take historic measures to affect this adverse grand tidal change. One such measure is to use the basic international monetary system that as glue binds together monetary, financial, economic and commercial systems as a means to combat the climate crisis. This can be done by basing it on a carbon standard. For details, see www.timun.net and the recently published book The Tierra Solution: Resolving the Climate Crisis through Monetary Transformation.
 
 
-15 # Malcolm 2012-08-18 13:05
I don't understand. Did the Greenland Ice Crisis of 150 plus years ago also "show the extreme danger of global heating of the climate"?

Did the melting of Greenland ice way back then "...not only raise sea levels, but ...also ..modify weather patterns."?

And did the melting of a century and a half ago have the same results as McKibben predicted for our immediate future:

" ...all hell breaks loose for eastern North America and Europe"?

Because if this stuff-changing weather patterns, flooding of NYC, etc really did happen in the 19th century, it sure didn't get much press coverage!
 
 
+6 # mdhome 2012-08-18 18:44
Nowhere I can see it saying this happened 150 years ago, simply it has NOT happened for AT LEAST 150 years, prior to that nobody knows if it happened,
 
 
0 # robcarter.vn 2012-08-22 23:55
You might be right mdhome I can't find a record of that happening, if so I don't know why McKibben said"a "freak event" that hadn't occurred for at least 150 years" since that just confuses any reader.

Still no one discusses the 2012 Kermadec Islands eruption and pumice raft

"HMNZS Canterbury was the first ship to take scientific samples from a 7,500–10,000 square mile pumice raft that was discovered in the Kermadec islands" Surely such a sea mound Volcano Undersea pushing up 10,000 square Miles of pumice, had first caused billions of gallons of hot water to join the gulf stream to affect Greenland's Ice and water heat? It sure didn't go south to melt the Antarctic shelf?
 
 
-12 # Malcolm 2012-08-18 13:21
According to NOAA, this is a normal event, which occurs every 150 years or so. In fact, they say,"'Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time,' says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data."

Koenig goes on to say how this could become "worrisome" were it to continue in the future. Since this has not happened, why is McKibben acting as if this were some big deal? It's cyclic, fer crisakes.

http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/greenland-melt.html

Get real, please!
 
 
+5 # mdhome 2012-08-18 18:45
IN ONE WEEK??? GET REAL!!
 
 
-12 # MidwestTom 2012-08-18 13:41
If increasing carbon dioxide causes global warming, please explain how we can be warming, when earlier this week it was announced that CO2 in the atmosphere is at a 20 year low. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/16/us-carbon-dioxide-emissions-2012_n_1792167.html
 
 
+13 # Ken 2012-08-18 15:48
It is US emissions that are at a 20-year low, not total CO2 levels. The article is full of warnings that emissions in the developing world are still rising rapidly. Worldwide CO2 levels are still going up, and they will continue to do so, even if we manage to reduce yearly emissions in some countries. Remember that once CO2 is in the atmosphere it stays there and continues to exert a greenhouse effect for over 100 years.
 
 
+4 # Gunther 2012-08-18 19:51
Malcom's addition of a link to the NOAA data is helpful. But note that the reference to ice cores talks of a melting event at the Summit location, and does not tell us anything about the surface of the entire ice sheet melting at once. Kind of tough to get that data, we seem to have lost the satellite images from 1889. If ice core data exists from a wide spread number of locations on the ice sheet, to indicate that the entire surface of the sheet has melted about every 150 years, we might have expected Lora Koenig to mention this.
 
 
+11 # michellewey 2012-08-18 20:00
For the people responding to this article with disbelief & who insist that what we are experiencing is nothing more than cyclical, your resistence to recognizing the truth when it is clearly laid out for you is testament to the power of denial the human psyche is capable of when confronted with the possibility of death and the likelihood that the extinction of human life on this planet will be instigated by humans. As a non-specialist who has been reading about & observing climate change since the early '90s, I am now seeing that what scientists didn't predict 20 yrs ago was that the very process of global warming would feed upon itself, thus accelerating the process. The easiest example is what happens when a giant glacier breaks apart. It will take much less time for the resulting smaller pieces to melt than it would have taken if those pieces had remained a single entity. Another example is the concept that as the temperature of our oceans rise, the melting ice is not only caused by warmer temperatures in the air but also in the water below the ice. In this article, the explanation of sudden & large reduction in reflectivity (the albedo effect) also supports the idea of global warming increasing exponentially. It is ever more obvious that we have passed the tipping point. But you climate deniers can continue to believe that this is all hogwash while you eat up the blatant lies fed to you by rightwing politicians who are doing the bidding of the world's biggest polluters.
 
 
0 # Bruce Gruber 2012-08-19 07:13
I find myself ... praying for violent weather patterns to bring flooding deluges to wash away sandbanks exacerbated by extreme drought. The prayer includes recognition that "Sucking it up!" while enjoying the comfort of keeping our heads buried in the sand probably increases the likelihood of silicosis ... or suffocation ... or glassy-eyed blindness. The choices among suffocation, drowning, blindness and self indulged ignorance are maintained by the 'profitaganda deducted on tax returns by corporate "people" as 'educational' advertising hype... such joy at being independent and self reliant ...
 
 
-3 # Malcolm 2012-08-19 15:03
Quoting mdhome:
It would appear you have some trouble with reading comprehension. First. McKibben is only reporting like any reporter, the conclusion was not his. I guess you would not believe a reporter who said a man was stabbed to death last night unless he was the one stabbed to death. Second. This condition has not happened for at LEAST 150 years, I presume because we did not have satellites and helicopters and measuring devices to get an accurate reading on the condition in the dark ages. I trust this clarifies things for you.


Mr. MDHome, your response is very encouraging to me, as it indicates that my message must be getting through to you; otherwise, you wouldn't be exhibiting so much angst, methinks.

Have you noticed how some people, when they can't argue facts, always seem to attack the messenger instead?

As far as whether or not I'd believe someone who reported that someone had been stabbed, that's a real stretch of logic. It's pretty simple to determine if someone's been stabbed or not. Hardly much room for argument there, generally speaking.

But your even mentioning this is a perfect example of why it's so hard to have reasonable discussions on matters that include so many variables, and so many diverse opinions: MOST PEOPLE TEND TO BELIEVE THE "REPORTER", rather than doing their own research. Doing your own research is very important, in order not to just parrot what someone else told you.
CONTINUED
 
 
-2 # Malcolm 2012-08-19 15:04
CONTINUED

Of COURSE, if someone does not have the background to understand and evaluate the data, they can ONLY rely on the opinions of others to interpret the facts for them.

A perfect example of this problem is your statement, "Nowhere I can see it saying this happened 150 years ago, simply it has NOT happened for AT LEAST 150 years, prior to that nobody knows if it happened"
You parrot the party line by claiming that "nobody knows if it happened". You failed to do even a simple search of the data to find out if this were true or not. Turns out, it's apparently not true. (I say "apparently" because I only found one source, in a quick googling for information. But my source was at least a well qualified expert in the field, working for NASA, rather than some wacko warmist or wacko skeptic.

The only real evidence I see for my having "reading comprehension" problems (aka "attack the messenger") is that I cannot understand the meaning of your statement "IN ONE WEEK??? GET REAL!!".

Even here, I think my lack of comprehension can be blamed on your lack of clarity. If you'd explain what in the world your statement was referring to, I might understand you better.
 
 
-2 # Malcolm 2012-08-19 15:27
I can't help noticing how many people here keep proving my point. Rather than making even a small attempt to discuss the issues, they simply give me "thumbs down". Cute, but ineffective to free thinking, consensus building, or understanding the issues.

FWIW, I was a died in the wool, 45 year registered Democrat, precinct chair, fourth district delegate to US Representative Peter DeFazio.

With all that experience, I naturally fell in with the thinking of my peers, and felt no need to question the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

But then, someone convince me to view Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth".

As a person whose education is in climatolgy, physics, oceanography, hydrology, geology and various other sciences, and whose job experience is in hydrology, water and air monitoring (including temperature monitoring), with US Geological Survey, and as an independent hydrology consultant, I was shocked-SHOCKED -at the shall I say "misleading" statements, charts, etc, presented by Gore.

I have to thank Gore for inspiring me to do my own research on this issue, relying on as many data sources I can find, and using my background to separate the wheat from the chaff to the extent I am able.

I began by realizing that the issue is not "settled", and that the attitude of many warmists is incompatible with scientific method.
 
 
+1 # Malcolm 2012-08-19 15:27
CONTINUED


It's hard to discuss the actual issues with those whose ideas are inflexible, so i'll simply suggest not closing your mind to new data, just because it threatens conclusions based mostly on hearsay.
 
 
+3 # werker 2012-08-19 17:18
We can debate issue by issue but it seems self evident that humanity has a very damaging effect on the planet. Be it war, pollution, drugs, or species annihilation. What is there to defend? We are flawed but we can do better! I see global warming as a symptom of greed, short sightedness and waste.
 
 
0 # lorenbliss 2012-08-20 09:50
Geologists in the mid-20th Century theorized a sufficient rise in sea levels would reverse the major ocean currents -- the Gulf Stream, the Japan Current etc. -- and thereby trigger a new ice age. This was based on evidence -- newly discovered at the time -- indicating opposite directions for these currents during former periods of global glaciation.

There was also, then, newly discovered evidence suggesting such transformation could occur at astonishing speed: mammoths, for example, frozen so quickly the subtropical vegetation they had eaten for breakfast was still undigested.

I do not know if the resultant theories are still accepted because I have not kept up with the literature. The career in natural science that was my first occupational choice was forever obstructed by the fascist savagery that lurks beneath capitalist education -- in those days, the denial of student loans to children of parents who would not sign the required loyalty oaths, the denial of scholarships to applicants who could not obtain the endorsement of a business executive or a minister, priest or rabbi.

Nor do I have the time now to adequately research oceanic currents. I mention the topic merely in the hope some other reader who is current in geological/clim atological/envi ronmental theory might be able to enlighten us on this matter, for which thanks in advance.
 
 
0 # Malcolm 2012-08-20 11:36
[quote name="lorenblis s"]Geologists in the mid-20th Century theorized a sufficient rise in sea levels would reverse the major ocean currents -- the Gulf Stream, the Japan Current etc. -- and thereby trigger a new ice age. This was based on evidence -- newly discovered at the time -- indicating opposite directions for these currents during former periods of global glaciation.

There was also, then, newly discovered evidence suggesting such transformation could occur at astonishing speed: mammoths, for example, frozen so quickly the subtropical vegetation they had eaten for breakfast was still undigested.

I do not know if the resultant theories are still accepted because I have not kept up with the literature. The career in natural science that was my first occupational choice was forever obstructed by the fascist savagery that lurks beneath capitalist education -- in those days, the denial of student loans to children of parents who would not sign the required loyalty oaths, the denial of scholarships to applicants who could not obtain the endorsement of a business executive or a minister, priest or rabbi.
 
 
0 # Malcolm 2012-08-20 11:37
CONTINUED
Nor do I have the time now to adequately research oceanic currents. I mention the topic merely in the hope some other reader who is current in geological/clim atological/envi ronmental theory might be able to enlighten us on this matter, for which thanks in advance.



I do not these

I feel qualified only to comment on one of your points, Lorenbliss-the frozen mammoths.

I can't say for sure without more information, but i would assume that these mammoths were frozen in subtropical glaciers, and had been eating subtropical vegetation in close proximity to the glacier.


Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume the mammoth(s) at lunch, then unfortunately walked across the glacier, and fell into a deep crevasse? If that happened, I would expect their digestive processes to shut down m/l immediately due to death, that their bodies would freeze quite rapidly, since they would have been located deep below the glacier surface, packed in ice, as it were.

Does this make sense?
 
 
0 # phantomww 2012-08-20 20:56
I admit that I am not a scientist. Maybe some of you can answer a couple of questions for me. I am told that the earth is warming and that CO2 levels are rising. I know from history that there was a mini-ice age in the 1700's. What is the ideal temp range for the earth for human life? What is the ideal CO2 range for human life? Since this article is about Greenland, is it not true that it was named Greenland because it was once green and thus not covered in ice? When was that time and where was all the water then because I don't think the entire east coast of america and the west coast of europe was under water at that time.
I am looking forward to any answers so that I can learn more about AGW.
 
 
0 # Malcolm 2012-08-21 16:20
Quoting phantomww:
I admit that I am not a scientist. Maybe some of you can answer a couple of questions for me. I am told that the earth is warming and that CO2 levels are rising. I know from history that there was a mini-ice age in the 1700's. What is the ideal temp range for the earth for human life? What is the ideal CO2 range for human life? Since this article is about Greenland, is it not true that it was named Greenland because it was once green and thus not covered in ice? When was that time and where was all the water then because I don't think the entire east coast of america and the west coast of europe was under water at that time.
I am looking forward to any answers so that I can learn more about AGW.


I recommend you google "medieval warm period" greenland.

Hope that helps; there's plenty of information available, including on wikipedia.
 
 
0 # Malcolm 2012-08-21 16:29
I should mention that "ideal life for the earth for human life is probably right where we are now, or warmer (longer growing seasons are nice for those of us addicted to food :)


The medieval warm period is also known as one of the several recent "climate optima", which speaks volumes for warm climate.

As far as I know there is no ideal CO2 levels, for humans (anyone who can correct me, please do so) because the amount of CO2 in the air is a miniscule percentage of the total volume of gas.

On the other hand, it seems to be generally recognized as true that increasing CO2 levels translate to better plant growth, since the plants use nothing but CO2, water, and sunlight for photosynthesis. The increased photosynthesis also has a by product of oxygen, which is always nice for us humans :)
 
 
0 # suziemama 2012-08-26 00:45
I remember hearing once that Iceland (which is green) was called Iceland to discourage raiders from going there, and Greenland (which is icy) was called Greenland, so raiders would venture there instead, and meet and ill fate. I'm not quite sure if that is really true... are there any historians in the crowd?
 

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